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News & Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 1500 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Some more specific items appear in Peter's Blog, so its also worth checking there.  

Please feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk.

 
News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy life.

Updates 14 September: Because of a Technical Issue, this article replaces an identical one previously published on this page. I have now published a second article on my Blog Page, looking at various items of background. 

I first covered the issues at SchoolsCompany in an article back in 2014 as it guided Castle Community College in Deal into Special Measures,  along with Lilac Sky Schools (see below). Both of these companies were highly rated by Kent County Council at the time and had contracts to support several schools. The SchoolsCompany Trust subsequently sponsored Castle as an academy in 2016, renaming it as ‘SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy’, a pretentious title which went with some of the fantastical schemes hatched up by the trust’s CEO, none of which came to fruition, including the non-existent Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication in Nigeria.  The Trust collapsed in 2018 after existing for just three short years, reportedly being £8 million in debt, £4 million of which had been run up during SchoolsCompany’s management of Castle Community College.  

SchoolsCompany

The government is finally taking action against four of the previous Trustees of the Trust, after three years investigating this financial scandal, although a Report promised a year ago has still not been published. For some reason, they have evaded a direct intervention, even at this late stage. The arm's length and convoluted procedure explained in SchoolsWeek has the government funding the newly appointed sole current Trustee, a Management Consultant with experience in overseeing dissolved companies, to sue previous trustees in an attempt to recover £2.8 million of 'lost public funds’, the remaining millions having been written off. In the intervening three years, according to SchoolsWeek, Elias Achilleos the former Chief Executive appears to have vanished completely.

SchoolsCompany no longer comes under the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency which is responsible for academies, having had all of its schools removed, and has amazingly become a charity. BBC SW screened an Investigation in February 2020 analysing the financial affairs of SchoolsCompany, to which I contributed. The programme reported that the police were examining the company’s finances to see if fraud had been committed, but we have heard no more of this. 

Update 12 September: Swale Borough Council is holding a meeting on Sheppey open to the public on Tuesday 14th September. On the agenda is an item to discuss the current crisis in secondary school provision, based on the enclosed document. I look at this in more detail below.    

Update 9th September: It has been suggested that the school's GCSE performance this summer may have been a factor in Miss Lee's departure. Interestingly, in his statement to KentOnline (below), Rev Chalke made no mention of these, which would have been a good indicator of the real progress he talks about. 

 The latest Principal of the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS), Tina Lee suddenly left her post without notice either in July or over the summer holiday according to different reports, and has now been replaced by another new temporary Executive Principal, the eighth leader of the school since it became an academy in 2009.

Miss Lee had already been humiliated last September after Oasis brought in an Executive Principal over her head, but he only lasted a term and it appears that her performance in the interim may not not been sufficient to keep her job. I have written extensively on the failures of the Oasis Trust to turn the school round since it sacked the most successful Principal it has ever had, when it took over OAIOS in 2013 after another Trust had failed with the school. At the foot of this article, you will find a list of some of the previous reports I have written on this ongoing calamity.

Oasis Sheppey

According to Kent Online: ‘The Rev Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, insisted Miss Lee had not left "under a cloud." He said: "The reverse is true. Tina has done a great job. For the first time in years, we have a full intake of Year 7s and are having to use the Sheerness site again. We have also just received a really good letter from Ofsted saying the school is making real progress. We are not 'good' yet but we are heading in the right direction. It takes a long time to turn a school around. For years huge numbers of children have been bussed off the Island every day." These claims are looked at in more detail below. 

Since the start of this website in 2010, and its predecessor from 2004, I have featured information articles listing all academies and academy trusts in Kent and Medway. These were followed by articles on Free Schools (both operational and planned)  and University Technical Colleges. These four articles have had over 200,000 visitors between them, including many from media and other organisations wishing to consult the only published and comprehensive listing of these schools.

I have recently completely revised and updated each of the four articles, and this article reviews their content, drawing out some of the key findings. I also expand on the following paragraph.

The government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency has a rule that ‘Before escalating an academy complaint to us, you should first complain to the academy. You should follow the academy’s complaints procedure. We cannot change an academy’s decision about a complaint. Our role is to make sure the academy handles your complaint properly’, effectively making all academies non-accountable to parental concerns (see below). The Government Paper ‘Building strong academy trusts’ begins ‘Section one sets out the department’s ambition for all schools to be part of strong academy trusts, in strong families of schools’  (of at least 12 schools!). Currently, 81% of the 118 local secondary schools are academies, with just 26 of these in Trusts of 12 or more schools. Meanwhile, the government and KCC appear determined to see through the new but unnecessary secondary Free School in Margate, to be built on a cramped unsuitable site with no room for a Sixth Form.

My best wishes to all who are receiving their GCSE results today, may they be what you wish for.

Most of you will have decided the next step to take in September, be it staying in your own school or transferring to another, for A Level or vocational courses, or a mixture of the two;  leaving to go to college to take a vocational course; part-time college education, along with employment (which may include an apprenticeship) or volunteering more than 20 hours a week. The law now requires all young people in England to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. 

Sadly, other young people will find themselves missing out on their chosen option, and some will change their minds at the last moment. Whilst many doors will now have closed, others do remain open, and I have written several articles exploring these via links through my Information Article on Sixth Form Admissions and Appeals, which opens up into other possibilities, here.

As with A Level, we can expect similar grade inflation this year, biased towards those who have had the most schooling, in school or remotely. This will put increased but unpredictable pressure on many Sixth Form courses, as schools won't have the flexibility of universities to expand to meet increased demand.  

Revised: 8th August. Kentonline has subsequently published a bland article on the proposal here

The planning application for the proposed Park Crescent Academy in Margate has now been published, exposing the utter poverty of the concept. The education case set out for it is almost non-existent, whilst the site is described as being ‘constricted or constrained where space is at a premium’  and is also constrained by being on two distinct levels, with the very limited recreational and sporting outdoor areas dependent on the nearby public  Dane Park Playing Fields. I have covered both these issues extensively in previous articles, most recently ‘The New No Win Park Crescent Academy’, but this article focuses on KCC's justification for the project.

Picture 1

You will find the full planning application here, published in the Kent County Council weekly planning lists for 30th July,  the consultation to run for four weeks during the summer holidays until 28th August (now extended to 8th October. The most interesting section is the Planning Statement, tucked away inside the series of documents, which sets out the rationale for the project, and reproduced here. My analysis below divides it into two sections: The Education Needs Case; and The Site and Surroundings.

It is the only one of the twelve new secondary schools in Kent and Medway, open or planned since Ebbsfleet Academy in 2013 not to have a Sixth Form, a decision clearly made because of space limitations. Coincidentally, I was also in at the birth of Ebbsfleet Academy, and received assurances at an open meeting from the then KCC Cabinet Member, that the new school would not be built on the current site as it was too small and had no room for a Sixth Form. Ebbsfleet was built there, hasn't a Sixth Form, and has struggled ever since.

I apologise for the greatly delayed publication of this item.

I have subsequently included an update exploring Medway Council's forecasting of the dramatic fall in numbers described below

There is no doubt that the big news for primary allocations in Medway this year has been the fall of 10% in the number of children being allocated places at local schools, resulting in many more vacancies. All Medway children looking for a local place were offered one, along with a small number living out of the area. In total 3277 places were offered, down from 3447 in 2020 leaving 16% unfilled, well up on previous years. That also means far fewer families were disappointed with the offers they received, with 92% getting their first choice, up from 88% last year. 51 local children were allocated places by Medway Council after they were given none of their choices, well down on previous years, almost certainly having limited these choices to a few popular schools. This fall was forecast, although underestimated, by the Council in its Annual Review of the School Place Planning Strategy in October last year, see new section below, the decline now forecast to continue for each of the next three years.   

The one form entry The Pilgrim School in Rochester is by some way the most primary oversubscribed school in Medway, turning away 35 first choices, even more than the 30 places it offered. Next were the three schools that headed the list last year, Barnsole (down from 49 to 24 first choices disappointed), Academy of Woodlands (down from 27 to 24); and Cliffe Woods (down from 50 to 19), separated by Brompton-Westbrook on 21. St Thomas More Catholic saw the most remarkable change in fortune, having gone from 13 vacancies on allocation last year, to being 14 first choices oversubscribed for 2021 entry.

Pilgrim 3    Barnsole Woodlands

Not surprisingly, apart from the Hoo Peninsula, all areas saw an increase in the number of unfilled places, most in Chatham (up to 19% from 12%), and Gillingham (up to 17% from 10% in 2020), contributing to the high proportion of satisfied applicants. Nearly two-thirds of the 69 schools had vacancies, way up on the 36 of 2020. Five schools had more than half of their places unfilled on allocation, a situation which, if continued will present them with financial difficulties. 

I look more closely at each Medway area separately, below, links as follows: Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, Walderslade, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here

I have discovered that the Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School has been served with two separate formal Warning Notices about its disgraceful conduct by Medway Council. These along with other correspondence supplied to me by a Freedom of Information Request leaves no doubt that Medway Council needs to take urgent action to dissolve the GB.

The first Warning Notice, issued in January, considered that: ‘In the council’s view there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed.  The second Warning Notice, three months later, contained:  'I am writing to you as the significant concerns to which I referred in the warning notice I issued on 4 January 2021 have not been adequately addressed by the Fairview community primary school governors'. The second also formally warns the Governing Body that if its tough requirements are not met within a strict time limit, Medway Council will ‘consult on the authority’s intention to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members’, i.e. sack the GB.  The correspondence demonstrates a GB attempting to carry on regardless of these two official notices.

Fairview Community 

It is difficult to comprehend the arrogance of these people, few with any educational background, who wish to keep control of Fairview Primary when they clearly do not have the competence to do so.  The appointment of an assistant caretaker as the staff governor (with no disrespect to him personally) and no other candidates put forward surely reflects the contempt of the teaching staff for the GB.

I have never in my sixteen years of advising families and others about education issues in Kent and Medway seen anything like the litany of failure described in the second Warning Notice about the conduct of a school Governing Body. 

Warwick Mansell, on his Education Uncovered website, looked extensively at this appointment, including Dr Saxton's 'impeccable' political connections as a qualification for the post. He also drew on several of my articles, to illustrate her unsuitability for the post.

The Pre-Appointment Hearing covered many issues relating to the role of Chief Regulator of Ofqual but for Kent families, those relating to Dr Saxton’s leadership of Turner Schools between  2017 and 2020 were particularly relevant and illuminating. The questions posed about that leadership by the Labour MP, Kim Johnson were clearly based on my previous article about her appointment here. This looked objectively at Dr Saxton's performance as CEO and focused on three key themes I had raised: Finance, Discipline and the Haemorrhaging of Pupils, which I explore further below. Her performance began and ended with 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools'.